By Jean-François Quénet
Thor Hushovd started and finished Paris-Nice on a high note. As a surprise winner of the prologue, Hushovd said he hadn't specifically prepared for it given the time of year. The 30 year-old Norwegian also claimed the points classification of the "Race to the Sun" for the first time in his career with a comfortable margin over the GC riders Luis Leon Sanchez, Davide Rebellin and Carlos Barredo.
His biggest competition was not at the French race; instead the other best sprinters were busy on the Italian front at Tirreno-Adriatico. "It wasn't my choice to ride Paris-Nice," he said. "I changed my program after Crédit Agricole didn't get selected for Tirreno-Adriatico, but it wasn't bad preparation for Milano-Sanremo because it was a hard race every day with quite a lot of climbs. That doesn't hurt before we race over the capi on Saturday."
The Norwegian coped better than anybody else with the bad weather at the beginning of Paris-Nice. "I didn't get sick," he said. "Remember, last year I got really sick before Milano-Sanremo. I couldn't race that day, and I kept chasing form after that. That's why I couldn't pull up a win before stage four in the Tour de France."
Already placed third in the Het Volk after winning a stage at the Tour of the Mediterranean so far this 2008 season, Hushovd is approaching the biggest Spring Classics in the best condition of his life. "I was surprised to go so well in the climbs at the end of Paris-Nice," he said. He finished eighth on the penultimate stage to Cannes with a performance over the col de Tanneron that would have pleased then race leader Robert Gesink. The Norwegian also showed his amazing skills riding downhill, something that counts a lot in Milano-San Remo.
"I cannot compare my form with the other sprinters because we were racing on different terrain," he said. "I just know that I have recovered very well from my efforts in Paris-Nice, and that I have two more days than the participants of Tirreno-Adriatico for gearing up for Milano-Sanremo." Hushovd has stayed in the south between the two events in a special training camp for the Crédit Agricole riders selected for the Primavera and organized in Andorra near the Italian Riviera.
In their line-up, William Bonnet who sustained a knee injury after a crash during Paris-Nice has been replaced by Eric Berthou, alongside Gabriel Rasch, Simon Gerrans, Jeremy Hunt, Alexandre Botcharov, Sébastien Hinault and Dimitri Fofonov. "Since I climbed on the podium three years ago with Alessandro Petacchi and Danilo Hondo, I have in mind that I'll win this race one day," said an optimistic Hushovd. That day might come soon if the Norwegian continues his strong riding.